If I think hard about all the reasons why I wanted to visit Scotland, the spectacular natural scenery tops the list.
Some might consider it a destination to visit when you’re old and have lots of money (it’s an expensive country, for sure!), but I felt the need to see it while I was still young.
As an environmentalist, I want to see these naturally beautiful places while there’s still something to see. I simply can’t put Scotland aside until I retire, as the effects of climate change and overpopulation means there are no guarantees that it will stay the same for the next 30 years.
During my 10-day Scotland road trip with my husband and a few of our Aussie friends, I’m happy to say that it completely lived up to my expectations! There were parts of the countryside that were so jaw-droppingly gorgeous that it was hard to believe that what we were seeing was real.
As the official trip organiser for our group, I planned to fill our itinerary with as many Scottish activities as possible. Here are 9 experiences in Scotland that you absolutely cannot miss!
1. Eat haggis
This one was somewhat of a challenge for Rob and I, seeing as we’re both vegetarian (and haggis is definitely not veggie-friendly!). For those who don’t know, haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made from miscellaneous sheep organs minced with onion, oatmeal, and a few other things. It’s often served with “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes) and also looks somewhat like a plated turd. Sounds pretty gross, right?
Luckily, Glasgow surprised us by having loads of vegetarian and vegan options at restaurants, and we ended up finding a vegetarian haggis with a delicious whiskey sauce at Ubiquitous Chip in Hillhead. It was surprisingly tasty! I’m not sure what the ingredients of their secret recipe were, but veggie haggis usually substitutes lentils or vegetables for the sheep bits. A 100% better option, in my opinion!
2. Seek out some Harry Potter magic
There’s no better place for Harry Potter fans to seek out some Hogwarts magic than in Scotland. My activity of choice was to visit Glenfinnan Viaduct in the highlands, where you can watch the Jacobite Steam Train resembling the Hogwarts Express as it makes it’s way over the spectacular bridge shown in a few of the movies.
JK Rowling was also inspired by the streets of Edinburgh for some of the HP series. Take a walk along Victoria Street for a Diagon Alley experience, then stop in at The Elephant House (if you can manage to get a seat!) to check out the cafe where JK spent much of her time writing the books. True fans can even do a Harry Potter walking tour to get fully immersed in the magic!
3. Gawk at the natural scenery
The landscapes in the Scottish Highlands were 100% gorgeous. As we drove around the country, we stopped countless times to take photos. I think the most spectacular part of our trip was Isle of Skye (especially when we visited Neist Point Lighthouse and hiked up to Old Man of Storr!), but the scenery around Glencoe, Loch Ness, and Cairngorms National Park were all beautiful, too.
If you’re only planning to stay in the major cities, it is possible to see this scenery on a day trip -take a look at some Scotland tours to visit the highlands from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
4. Say hello to a highland cow
As if regular cows aren’t already adorable, highland cows take their cuteness to the next level! With a thick head of ginger hair and lengthy horns, these gentle beasts can be found all over the highlands.
We spotted the guy above as we were driving around Isle of Skye, and quickly jumped out of the car for a few photos. So adorbs!
5. Explore a Medieval castle
Castles are scattered all over Scotland – it would be impossible to visit the country without seeing one. We visit three castles (yep, three!) and we could have visited more if we weren’t all castled-out by the end of our trip.
Dunvegan on Isle of Skye was probably my favourite as the interior displays were all in good condition and the gardens were super lovely. Urquhart at Loch Ness was a close second and a completely different experience as it sits mostly in ruins. Eilean Donan in the highlands came in third, as it had the best exterior photo ops but the interior displays weren’t quite as great.
6. Sample some Scotch Whiskey
Scotch Whiskey can only be called Scotch if it’s from Scotland, so of course you should try some while you’re there. The Isle of Islay is most famous for whiskey, but there are distilleries all over the country.
We stopped in at Talisker, the oldest distillery on Isle of Skye, and also at Tomatin, near Inverness. Although we didn’t do any guided tours, the distilleries both had visitor centers, shops, and tasting bars where we could sample the goods.
7. Find a kilt and bagpipes
The kilt is considered formalwear for men in Scotland, so you may spot people attending important events wearing them. We saw a handful in Glasgow, but it wasn’t until we arrived on Isle of Skye that we finally found a man in a kilt that was playing the bagpipes! As we turned up at the Kilt Rock viewpoint (such an appropriately named location), a busker stood by the cliffs and played us some Scottish tunes.
In Edinburgh, it was much more common to see buskers dressed in the full kit playing music on the streets. I loved hearing the sounds of bagpipes drifting through the city each day.
8. Get cosy in Scottish accommodations
There’s nothing more British than a Bed and Breakfast, and Scotland has plenty of them. With decor that would seem appropriate in your grandmother’s lounge room, these cutesy accommodations are sure to warm your heart. If you can bag one that includes a full Scottish Breakfast, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Our road trip included a few B&Bs, along with some other interesting accommodations. A traditional Highland Lodge at Cairngorms National Park, glamping pods on a farm near Inverness, and an Airbnb cottage on Isle of Skye all made for a wonderfully Scottish experience!
9. Feed a reindeer
I’ve gotta admit, feeding a reindeer was just as amazing as it sounds! In Cairngorms National Park (between Edinburgh and Inverness) there is a free-roaming reindeer herd. These animals were brought to Scotland in 1952 to reintroduce the species which had been hunted to extinction about 8 centuries ago.
The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in the national park runs walking tours to their giant paddocks, where you can actually hand feed the animals, then wander between them and take photos while they graze!